Notes from New Bedford – Part 1: General Development

Index

This is not a history of the design, which requires a longer post, and will eventually be completed when the game is published. Instead, this is my description of how some of the key features are integrated into the game theme. This is the first post in that series, touching on general aspects of the game and things included on the main game boards.
The basic actions were around from the very beginning, and are mostly unchanged since that time. The town-building portion of the game was about a third of the original concept, and is for the most part a standard resource collection and building game. There are only so many ways you can collect resources and use them to pay for buildings.
There are several steps involved before you can start whaling, with the idea that the more valuable something is, the harder you should have to work to accomplish it. But it never made thematic sense to have actions that only one person could use in a round, so I made the basic buildings usable multiple times. The first player gets a bonus to encourage you to choose carefully, and only makes slightly more sense thematically.
Another third of the original concept was having buildings actually add action spaces to the game. Some of my favorite games use buildings to improve actions or provide new abilities. Usually in worker placement games, the owner of a building is usually the only one to get a benefit from it (there are exceptions, such as some cards that add action spaces in Agricola). But I wanted buildings to be available to everyone, which means you don’t need duplicate pieces, and it adds a point of conflict. Of course, it is hard to resist the desire to have buildings that give you passive abilities, but I limited it to a few buildings that just give points at the end.
The final third of the game was the whaling aspect. To capture the theme of whaling, whales are picked from the ocean (the bag) and returned to shore at the end of the voyage. You pay wood to prepare a ship and food to launch it. This gave me most of the actions I needed for the town board, with the building aspect providing the rest of the actions. Initially, whales were simply collected and used for points or converted to money, but the first playthrough showed that it wasn’t interesting. The theme provided a solution in the form of the “lay”, the percentage of the profits paid to the crew. The game would never have worked if it had not been for this change.
The whaling theme and mechanic integrated beautifully. There are plentiful low value whales, but the most valuable whales are very rare. And the empty sea tokens model the gradual depletion of whales as the industry grew. There is a lot of risk involved in whaling, both in the game and in real life. You pay more to launch farther which improves your chances of getting a good whale and gives you more time to earn money to pay for them. But you increase the chances that you won’t be able to collect anything as the ship slowly returns to port. If you pay less, have a worse chance of collecting whales, but you may be able to send a ship out again sooner and get better whales later. As the game progresses, it becomes less profitable to make short voyages. That was part of the original intent, so I was happy to see it emerge as a consequence of the mechanics, and not part of any arbitrary system I had added to the game.
The whaling board functions were originally integrated with the town board, because it was easy to make, but it quickly became clear that separating the two was a better option. Buildings could be added on all sides of the town, allowing it to physically grow.
In the next part, I examine the two player buildings.
Next Part

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